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girl-heart-in-handHeart disease remains the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, accountable for 1 in every 4 deaths each year. The good news is that we are not helpless against it, and together we can help prevent heart disease by making smarter choices about what we eat and how we live.

Celebrated each year in February, American Heart Month is the perfect time to start making small but important changes that will have a lasting impact on heart health, and a great place to start is with the Life’s Simple 7™ Action Plan from the American Heart Association (AHA):

  1. Get Active: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking) each day, five times per week, to help lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Children should get 60 minutes a day, every day.
  2. Control Cholesterol: Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels protects your arteries and helps prevent blockages that can lead to heart disease and stroke. Get a regular screening, stay active, and eat foods that are low in cholesterol and unhealthy fats.
  3. Eat Better: A healthy diet is critical to preventing heart disease. Eat plenty of healthy fats (especially from fish and olive oil) along with low-sugar fruits, non-starchy veggies, protein, nuts and legumes. Eliminate added sugars, starchy carbohydrates and trans
  4. Manage Blood Pressure: High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range with the right diet and lifestyle helps protect your heart as well as the blood vessels supporting it.
  5. Lose Weight: Being overweight or obese increases your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes—all of which may contribute to heart disease. Even losing five or 10 pounds can make a big difference when it comes to heart health!
  6. Reduce Blood Sugar: High blood sugar increases the risk of developing heart disease. Check your blood sugar levels regularly, and eliminate added sugars. Reduce your intake of carbohydrates from starchy foods such as breads, pasta and starchy veggies.
  7. Stop Smoking: Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing heart disease because of the damage smoking does to the entire circulatory system. Quitting is the one of the best things you can do for your heart!

This month, you can help raise awareness about heart disease and spread the word about the benefits of adopting the Life’s Simple 7™ Action for a healthier, happier heart. Be sure to get the word out in your community!

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boy-eating-pizzaPizza and all its cheesy, gooey goodness is a crowd pleaser in most American homes—not to mention a mainstay of school lunch menus nationwide. The problem? According to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago, too much pizza may have a significant impact on the health of our children. Here’s what they found:

  • One in five kids eats pizza every day as a meal or snack.
  • On days when they eat pizza, children and teens consume an average of 157 more calories; 309 mg more sodium; and 4 g more saturated fat than on non-pizza days.
  • When kids eat pizza, they typically eat a lot of it—accounting for more than 20% of their daily intake of calories. And, when it comes to the top source of calories in the diets of U.S. kids and teens, pizza is second only to grain- and carb-heavy desserts such as cake and cookies.

In addition, kids aren’t balancing out their diet with more healthful foods on non-pizza days, and the overall effect may be contributing to problems such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. According to study author Lisa Powell, “Given that pizza remains a highly prevalent part of children’s diet, we need to make healthy pizza the norm.”

Try these 5 simple tips for taking pizza night to a whole(some) new level!

  1. Prepare it at home. You may not be able to control what restaurants and food manufacturers put in their pizza, but preparing your own pie at home can go a long way toward improving the nutrient value.
  2. Swap out dough for flat bread. You can’t have pizza without something to put all those toppings on, but try a healthier flat bread base made with whole grains instead of carb-heavy dough.
  3. Add more fruits and veggies. Ease up on meats and cheeses, which may be high in sodium and unhealthy fats. Instead, add more low-sugar fruits and non-starchy veggies.
  4. Ditch the jar sauce. Jar sauces are typically high in sugar—often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup—and sodium. Try using a can of natural tomato purée instead.

Pair it with a salad. Pairing pizza night with a healthy salad can help reduce the amount of calories, sodium and unhealthy fats consumed. Plus, the fiber in the veggies can help kids feel satisfied so they don’t reach for another slice.

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